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Innovative businesses 3 min read

Blazing forward: how Cypress Five Star grew to 80 locations and managed the COVID-19 reality

2020 changed many things, including what it's like to eat out at a restaurant. Jared Taylor of Blaze Pizza knows this first hand, but one thing hasn't changed: his dedication to a great customer experience.

Eating out at a restaurant used to be a welcome reprieve from the kitchen for many families. But 2020 has changed many things, and a night out on the town does not look or feel the same. This reality has had a large impact on restaurant owners and their staff as everyone tries to adjust their operations to accommodate increased safety and sanitization requirements.

Jared Taylor, Vice President of Operations of the Blaze Pizza franchise, with Cypress Five Star, has experienced this firsthand. Throughout the pandemic shut down, he and his team moved quickly to shift gears and provide the same delicious food under very different conditions.

“This is an unbelievable and bizarre time that we’re living in right now,” he says.

“What do our restaurants and restaurants in general look like after this pandemic, whenever that may be?”

Giving Canadians more options

Cypress Five Star — the company that manages Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Blaze Pizza in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and across a large part of Ontario— first began with a single location in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Jared and his team saw an opportunity to bring a better burger and pizza to Canadians who didn’t have as many options in the marketplace as their American neighbours.

“We felt like the better burger and pizza segments were underserved in Canada,” says Jared. “We started this 10 years ago, and we felt there wasn’t anything like it. We saw that Canadians wanted an enhanced burger and pizza concept out there.”

Their hunch was correct, and in the last 10 years that single location in Medicine Hat has ballooned into 80 locations between the two brands across the country. Aggressive growth both organic and acquisition-based, has been their approach ever since.

What keeps you up at night?

Pre-pandemic, there could have been a number of different variables that factored into the equation, but according to Jared at the moment there is a main one: COVID-19.

“Right now, in some of the studies in the news, they’re saying that 57% of Canadians don’t feel comfortable eating out right now. Obviously, that impacts us and everyone else in the industry,” he says.

This means that layered over the original hardships faced by restauranteurs and franchisees, such as overhead costs, ingredients, staffing, turnover and sales, there’s now the question of how to contribute to guest safety and comfort. While any owner has always been mindful of these components of operations, in current times they have usurped all other concerns.

“How do we build confidence in our customers to let them know it is safe to come and eat?” Jared asks. “That’s what keeps us up at night, and let me tell you, I don’t know if I look tired, but I feel tired. Every night, it’s just more worry and asking myself what can we do and how do we navigate this new path that everyone’s on?”

Success is possible when “making it” is a continuous journey

“Switching gears is about the only constant in restaurants,” Jared says. “These times may look and feel different, but I think we define success by the positive difference we make in our team members’ lives and the lives of the people who walk through our doors every day.”

“It’s the difference we make in every single person we employ and everyone who enjoys the food we serve them,” he continues. “How do we know if we’ve “made it”? I don’t think that’s a defined destination. It’s a never-ending journey for us.”

Using such a people-oriented marker for restaurant success means that their processes are secondary to the experience. However, it also means that a relative failure can be as simple as a negative experience for a customer.